I heard beeping. The slow methodical beep of a heart monitor.
I thought I unplugged the fucking thing.
My head throbbed.
The desire to open my eyes left me. I only briefly wondered which bar they'd dropped me outside of and which curb the police had picked me up on.
"It hurts," I told her. The quiet void reinstated itself around me.
The sympathy in the nurse's kind eyes intensified. "We can get you something a little stronger."
I nodded and turned away. She proceeded to fuss about the room, marking up some chart. I stared through the wall, thankful for the silence.
"Isabella, is there someone we should be calling let them know you're okay?"
My expired license revealed my full name. It must have gone onto my admitting records. My eyes darted downward to the tag around my wrist. I shook my head, and winced with the pain. I could still feel the effects of alcohol and knew I was going to have another hangover from hell.
"What about your folks? I'm sure they'd..."
"Unless you're having a seance, Haley Joel, that'd be pretty fucking difficult."
She took a step forward. "Is there anyone el...?"
"No." I rasped. "Alright? They left me here alone."
Her incessant questioning reawakened my fury. Unwillingly or not, they abandoned me and left me adrift in a world I didn't want to be a part of.
"Stop it." Her authoritative tone struck me. She didn't make an attempt to apologize for my loss or throw out another overused sentiment. "The dead have eyes. Do you want them to see you like this?"
Obviously she read my chart, and knew I was blasted. I wondered if it was possible to get another nurse that would do her fucking job, rather ride their righteous horse around me.
"They don't see anything anymore!" I spit. "They see nothing."
"They see everything! They wouldn't want this for you."
"I want this for me." I couldn't stand her matronly instances anymore and turned away.
"Punishing yourself wont bring them back."
I didn't identify it as that. I'd been weighting myself to my regret. My loss. My refusal to forget or forgive. It wasn't masochism driving my actions, just an inability to cope with the unrealistic expectation of moving on. My life was devoid of meaning or direction. Therapy and prescription pads only acted as a sparse patch.
She still had the luxury of believing God was patient and kind. That he had a plan and wasn't a sadist with chaotic tenancies. I envied her level of uninterrupted delusion, and even though I'd been momentarily guilty of joining her, I didn't actually entertain the notion he would issue a deliverance on my behalf. In all reality, I would revert to any state of disillusion to lessen my sadness.
"Just remember, one day you're going to meet up with them again and you're going to have to explain your actions. What kind of story do you want to narrate?"
My mother always said, the grandest story was fashioned from tiny details and poignant words.
My father always quoted, be the change you want to see in the world.
My story had nothing but indiscernible gibberish jotted on a bar napkin. The girl they knew vanished into the breeze that carried their ashes away. The tiny frightened creature who remained was a sole shadow stretching out on a desolate road. There was only truth left on my tongue.
"One where I'm not alone."
"You've been left behind. They didn't leave you alone."
She let her tender fingers press just so into the top of my hand, curling the warm tips around my frigid ones. The heat and sensation of her touch caused my breath to falter and my head to expand.
I heard my mother's voice first, telling me to be patient.
My father's came after, telling me to be brave.
Both pleaded with me to love infinity and gently reminded me that the world was only what I made of it.
Shocked, my frenzied thoughts rearranged themselves at the altar of a different truth and my brown eyes questioned her's for a moment. Ever so silently asking her if I could squeeze back.
She nodded and the corner of her eye teared up. The set of unsteady fingers of her free hand reconnected the heart monitor.
Nobody had arranged their words in that way. No counselor or acquaintance had managed to touch me. It was the first time I thought of my parents without the sense of aloofness. It made me happy to remember their borrowed ideologies and effortless mantras. I realized I hadn't been feeling any of the pain I thought I had, I'd been numbing it to the point of near sedation.
She made me feel pain. Then she left me behind.
- Etch -
I picked up the rhythm of familiar voices, but still was unable to open my eyes. My limbs still were under the power of an unresponsive part of my brain.
"Get her out of this city until I can figure out who the fuck is behind this."
"Shouldn't we let the cops handle it?""
Jake scoffed. "It's a good thing you're pretty."
"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?"
"It means I'm not waiting for the cops. I don't have to worry about red tape and judicial bullshit. The minute I find out who the fuck it is..." I heard an echoing snap.
"It's got to be, Volturi."
"If it is, he just declared war." A deep exhale followed, the core of his voice thickened and stirred the dull thud of intermittent silence.
"Thank fuck for the good fortune of shitty weather or I would have had to kill you."
I could nearly see the leveling stare Jake cast.
"Fuck you! You have no idea…none. She makes my piss poor existence on this planet make sense."
"You love her." Jake's response was delayed, but calm a validation of the expected. The sky is blue.
"Maybe as much as you do."
Once again, Jake's voice infiltrated me prior to another spree into unconsciousness. It was rough and entitled, like a wave lapping at the shore during high tide.
"Has she told you how we met?"
I fought to move my mouth, to stop him from explaining the details which should only belong to us. Instead, I was rushed away to a place of reticent darkness. I couldn't be sure how long I was removed from consciousness before I heard someone speak again.
"Come back to me."
The voice was familiar, but not placeable. My eyes struggled to open against their heaviness to connect the voice with a face. The surrounding white, sterile room kicked up my uncertainty. I successfully recovered my name, my date of birth. I actively attempted to move my finger, which wiggled accordingly.
My self assessment was cut short by my catching Edward's wary gaze. Slow pieces of my memory floated back to me; trash pick up, the storm, our time against the wall.
With strangled breath, I nearly jumped from the tiny inclined bed.
"Where are they?"
"They're gone." He firmly placed his hands on mine, in an attempt to subdue my jumbled mind and burdened body. "They're gone, Bella."
"Jake. She's up," he called into the hallway.
"Thank fuck!" Jake rounded the corner and crawled into bed and spooned me before saying anything else. "You scared the shit out of me, Swanne."
I pulled his arm tighter around me, trying to piece together what the fuck happened. "I went outside to smoke and there were men..."
I couldn't connect the blurry dots, as to how I was with Edward and Jake rather than God knows where.
"One of them probably has a broken nose. Motherfucker was lucky."
"How?" My safety felt foreign since I couldn't remember the details of my escape. "I thought you were working late?"
"I was, but the center started to flood because of the storm. We got people situated offsite and then left. LVB is a fucking mess. I pulled up when they were trying to jack you."
"The headlights..." I noted sitting up slightly.
"I saw you over the one's shoulder and launched myself out of the car. He panicked when I yelled at him to put you the fuck down. He'd thrown you in, but that's about the time Fancy Face finally made it to the party."
A look of unaired contention flashed between them, but Jake passed the ball to Edward as go ahead to continue on with the story.
Edward bowed his head slightly as way of apology. "I pulled you out. You should have woken me up I woul..."
'Don't even go there." I reached out for him with my free hand.
"What did they give me?" I felt more violated than I could ever recall feeling, but I was not copacetic with staying at the hospital for any longer than required.
Edward's fingers coiled tightly around mine before he answered.
"A sedative." His voice grew callous and his cadence picked up."Whoever it was didn't want you asleep for long and knew what they were doing. "
Jake continued before I could let anything sink in too much. "Cops want to talk to you. I got their license plate, but it's a rental."
I tried to make sense of why I was targeted. it was definitely deliberate, they knew where I lived.
"They were hired." I rose a little more, but my head wished I hadn't. "The one said 'he wasn't lying, she's feisty.'
And I felt worse, remembering the snip of conversation I was forcibly removed from. I didn't doubt Jake had told Edward how the roots of our friendship fashioned. It wasn't something I could dwell on or erase his knowledge of if he knew it. Instead, I took to focusing on their postulating about who would have enough of a vendetta against me to attempt kidnapping.
"It's gotta be that punk ass bitch, Voultri," Jake solidified before nodding in Edward's direction. He mimicked Jake's thoughts with a bob of his head.
It wasn't helpful to start finger pointing.
"We don't know that."
"We don't know that it isn't," Edward chimed and further squeezed the hand Jake didn't have."You can't count anyone out yet. The police are tracking them down."
If it was him, it saddened me that our encounter had escalated even more. His ill-bred fascination with me was unnerving on a level I hadn't experienced since beginning my trek.
Obviously he hadn't heard a damn word I said about letting bygones be bygones. His miracle ear needed an adjustment along with the setting on his pacemaker to something other than stone.
The devil smirked at the gauntlet thrown at her feet, stomped on it and then fried it into a pile of ash.
Despite their insistence to peg my only know adversary as the mastermind, I vowed to give him the benefit of the doubt. In my groggy, but safe state, it seemed to be the only logical course for the time being.
"Fuck the police. My connections will know before tomorrow."
Jake reportedly had friends in the mafia. We had a don't ask don't tell policy regarding the details. In reality, I doubted he had any and real ties to Gotti or had a cousin named Vinny.
Contacting the police was only going to escalate the drama and detract and distract from the project. It was one more headache I didn't need, but would have to contend with. I winced at the pain in my head again, wondering why a short lived sedative would have such an impact.
"Why does my head hurt?"
Edward took the liberty. "When he threw you, your head hit pretty hard. You have a concussion."
"A mild one." Jake added.
I relaxed back into the flat, rubberized pillow. "Fantastic. When can I get out of here?"
"The men in white coats said as soon as they finish up a few tests, but the boys in blue have their standard who, what, where question game to play first."
I relayed my limited details to the officers, including height and weight estimations, and that one of them had a fresh cigarette burn, but those details were only going to give them so much to go on. I wished I would have thought clearly enough to remove one of their masks, in order to speed the investigation along. It was not going to be easy to continue with the project while I was assuredly looking over my shoulder.
We touched briefly on Volturi and our previous altercation and subsequent media callouts, which spurred them to ask me a multitude of questions, including whether we'd met before that night at the casino, or if we had any mutual acquaintances.
Yes, because social deviants and self-entitled assholes are at the top of my Facebook friends list.
There was no use examining our limited history, it would only be a matter of how long it took to trace the name on the rental contract to flush out whoever it was. In the meantime, I just needed to be more vigilant and think about carrying pepper-spray.
"How long have you and your boyfriend been together?"
I smiled at the word boyfriend, realizing it was the first time Edward had been branded with the title. Though it felt a little flat in the way of a description in the knowledge I had.
"A few weeks." I went to correct my answer, but realized it was accurate.
It startled me immensely to know our relationship had escalated to the intensity it had in so little time. Then a dark thought crossed over my mind. I worried I became a target because someone was trying to send Edward a message. His car wasn't an accident and it was difficult to believe it wasn't him they were after, but the pieces didn't exactly fit. The details shifted around in my head attempting to clip themselves into something solid, but failed and wafted into the haze of reality.
"We actually met the same night." I spoke mostly to the ground, remembering the altercation with Volturi, believing and not believing he was involved.
I didn't delve into further details. They didn't seem particularly interested in them anyway, but their heads bobbed more adamantly with the last admission. Like they were drawing silent conclusions and refusing to share them. It upset me they were possibly formulating a defunct case which would focus on the usual suspect instead of who was actually to blame.
By the time the younger officer asked me if I could think of anything else out of the ordinary. I shrugged out of indifference, more than ready to be done with the conversation. I could describe a thousand things over the course of my life which would qualify as out of the ordinary.
"Anything unusual? Mail? Texts? Social Media?"
I quickly riffled through my mind and the last time I posted on the blog. It was to defend myself from Volturi's media ambush, and ended up getting comments about my time with Edward in front of the fountain.
"There was the comment…on the blog."
"Someone left a comment, 'I know who you are now. I'll be seeing you shortly.' It was the same night Edward came to stay with me, and his car caught fire."
My stomach sank a little, as I mulled over what happened. It seemed such a short amount of time for so much to occur. They recorded all of it with several nods and left me in the silent room with fractured thoughts and no answers.
I was able to leave the hospital the following morning. I felt more than a little strange walking with both Jake and Edward flanking me like they were a version of my personal secret service.
I was surprised they didn't have code names, matching suits and little ear pieces.
They'd given strict instructions to one another I was not to be left alone under any circumstance. Since I'd already grown accustomed and embraced Edward's shadow beside mine, it wasn't that much of an adjustment, so I agreed to their lunacy for the time being.
Jake begrudgingly returned to work at my insistence, which left Edward and I to try to fulfill the tasks I planned for the afternoon. The doctor advised me not to drive for at least forty-eight hours, but she also advised me to rest and relax at home. I figured following part of her advice was enough and reluctantly slunk into the passenger seat. The assisted living facility's dishes weren't going to wash themselves, and meals weren't going to be made in time without my help.
However, Edward surprised me, and drove into a coffeehouse parking lot, rather than to the facility.
I curiously eyed him while he put the car into park.
"Hospital coffee tastes like ditchwater." He grinned and attempted to coerce me with a few kisses to my neck. A few minutes wasn't going to permit the dishes to get any dirtier, and it was only to make him happier.
"You've twisted my arm."
Our tiny, overly polished table was out the way, but at Edward's request, we picked a spot inside among other patrons, instead of sitting alone on the outdoor patio. His nerves were getting the better of him, while he poured the sugar. He added way more than he usually did, and normally steady hands fumbled with the swizzles. The coffee house was semi-crowded for the time of day, I found myself uncomfortable, and secretly analyzing everyone for traits of my would be kidnappers.
Distractedly, I looked over the rim of my cup. "About the same as when you asked me five minutes ago."
Something seemed entirely off, I knew I'd been almost been unwittingly cast in Taken 4, but I was still there. I could only assume something more must be bothering him.
"What's going on?"
He froze, like he'd been trying to hide is nervousness and had been caught. He leaned forward and secured my hands before speaking
"I have to go home. Vic…has gotten me into something I can't work out from here." His unsteady hands and uncharacteristic harried actions caused and involuntary squeeze of our touching fingers. I was immediately extremely concerned and the protective adrenaline surged.
"What is it? Can I help at all?"
He stared at me.
"No. No. It's…shit." He let go of my hands abruptly and pinched the bridge of his nose. "You were almost…abducted and you still want to help me?"
You're the love of my life. I'd do anything for you.
The angel twirled at my unspoken affirmation and at the joy at admitting it, if only to myself.
I wondered if Pierce saw far enough ahead to know I would come to accept his truth as my own.
"Really, you've done enough already. It's something I have to take care of."
I tried not to take his words personally, but it felt like a severance rather than a solidifying action.
There was no place in our parallel words were the other one would realistically fit, but I wanted to at least try
"When will you head back?"
He exhaled and raised the mug to his lips, but thought better of it and lowered it to the table once more.
"I want you to go back with me."
I began to shake my head as his words sank in and mine began to form. His fingers pressed into mine in an attempt to anchor me.
"At least until whoever the fuck this is gets caught."
I was returned back to a snip of conversation I heard in the hospital.
"I can't do that. I'm supposed to be here. I'm not going to let someone else's agenda run my life or taint the project. Jake is overreacting."
Edward didn't seem surprised I knew whose idea it was, but the hostility he met me with was unnerving. He spoke frantically, harshly driving in his point while gripping the underside of the table.
"We don't even know what the agenda is! For all we know they have every intention of killing you, Bella."
"We can't specula-"
He interrupted as if I'd remained silent. "I can keep you off the radar for a while. You...can stay with me until this blows over."
"We don't even know if it's me they're really after. What if someone is trying to send you a message?" I gave him a pointed look, urging him to out any skeletons he may have been harboring.
A small laugh followed. "You think someone is out to get me?"
His craned his neck to the side and then straightened out again, a motion of exasperation.
"Bella, I've explained this to you, I am my own worst problem. With everything you've seen, is it so hard for you to believe Volturi would hire people hurt you? Kill you?"
He would have no reason to lie to me and I trusted Edward more than the rational side of my brain liked. I knew why I was having a difficult time grasping the idea, it was because I wanted to believe my words, and his time hovering death had made an impact on Volturi. That somehow, our altercation would better him, not worsen whatever horrific tendencies he held.
"It's possible, but it's hearsay. I…can't make any snap decisions based on that."
Part of me wanted to. The part of me which was composed of fractures of devotion and feared for Edward's welfare. I wanted to see if our separate lives could support a cross over. I knew he crossed into mine, but I couldn't be sure about whether I could make the same trek.
"Fine." His concession was detached and agitated. "What about protecting yourself? I don't know how long it takes to get a gun permit but you…"
I took a breath. Several more followed. Slow and purposeful, they made the liveliness of the cafe slow to a theatrical crawl of color. I had the ability to differentiate a single molecule and freeze it.
"No." I clenched my teeth and clung to my cup of coffee like a life preserver while he trailed off and the room restarted.
He sighed. "If you don't know how to shoot, I'm sure we can get you a lesson."
I slammed my cup down, spiraling wildly into deep, ice plated waters.
"My father was a cop. I damn well know how to shoot!"
"Alright." He muttered, confused "then why don't -"
He was sticking his salted fingers into a wound I'd nearly successfully patched, but would never be able to heal.
"Because!" My voice was loud and violated the taciturn environment. It willed him to shut his mouth and pray. I rose up out of my chair before a thought to stay centered could divert me. With a slam, I let the wood of the seat leave my shaking fingers and it hit the table. I unseated anything civil or normal about us or our surroundings and caught the attention of onlookers.
His justified confusion at my behavior left him speechless. I proceeded to grasp for a version of truth that wouldn't leave me weeping on the floor and found it only as he rose to touch me. I shrank away from him.
"It completely nullifies anything I've advocated. I will not alter my doctrine of peace and tolerance to defend myself!"
His plea grew more impassioned, accompanied by the funneling of fear from his eyes.
"You're not thinking rationally! These people don't give a shit about your fortitude or moral compass! Unless you take steps to protect yourself-"
My mind clouded over, as I lost the ability to continue to listen. I felt the water and the weight of his coercion burning my lungs,
"I'd sooner have whoever it is kill me."
I left him in the cramped coffee house while onlookers stared and the silence lingered behind me. My eyes brimmed with unshed tears, but I managed to blink them all back by rerouting my thoughts and biting my tongue. The outside air circulated through my lungs and blanched me, while any solace remained elusive. There was so many things my racked subconscious and veracious history wouldn't let me divulge. He couldn't have known his suggestion would cause me to come apart. He was on my heels and met up with me quickly.
I held my hand up in his direction, but refused to look at him.
"This is no longer up for discussion. There's other ways to protect myself."
"Okay." A weighted unfamiliar tone gouged me. I was suddenly apprehensive at the prospect of being alone with him.
"I need to get to the center."
He only nodded as he squeezed my hand and didn't push for any information on my opposition.
The tires squealed as he was peeling out if the parking lot. We made it to the freeway with only a few silent uncertain glances passing between us.
"The center is off this exit."
He increased his speed and hit ninety-five within a few seconds. The exit faded away behind us.
"What are you doing!?"
He didn't answer and consistently floored it, the digital tachometer pushed one hundred as the dusty landscape sped by.
"Edward," I started pulling on his arm. "Stop the car."
"No. We're not going to fucking center. I'm taking you to LA."
I was more than agitated and just this side of frightened.
"This isn't Jake's decision, he's overstepping, I'm no…."
"It's not his decision! It's mine."
He pulled the car to the side of the road, but kept the doors locked and the engine running. A cloud of opaque dust formed around the windows, blocking our view. His uncharacteristic, harrowing behavior made me completely uncomfortable, but my instincts weren't guiding me or affording me a clear signal on how I should handle anything. I went to manually unlock the door and hopefully get out and talk some sense into Edward before he changed his mind.
"If this means anything to you." he released his clenched, hand from the wheel and pressed all of his fingers, under my shirt and into the flesh housing my tattoo. It paused me and lessened my anger, but only slightly.
"Don't unlock the door."
My hands stilled and my eyes turned to him and my brain turned away from the idea. Adrenaline vaulted through my extremities before I think better of pushing against his strained arm.
"What the fuck is wrong with you?"
"I almost lost you. I almost…" His frantic lips went to mine, pummeling them with words he was reluctant to say for fear of making them a reality. His hands held my face, a tightened, truth filled, breath passed between our mouths.
He was afraid. His insecurities and love were dictating his erratic behavior.
At least I understood what Beyonce meant by "Crazy in Love"
It's a wonder all of us aren't wrapped in canvas and buckles staring at the wall.
A few beats of his pulse raced under the fingers I had wandering around his neck. A point of internal struggle bloomed and died as his lips faded away from mine.
"Jake already packed you a bag." He pulled it from under a blanket in the backseat and handed it to me. "We don't need to stop for anything.
I stared at him, unsuccessfully trying to grapple with the levels of premeditation.
"If you're not going to take what happened seriously, I am. I have to."
"It's serious," I conceded after a few moments, while the blood fled from my lips and back to my brain. "but I can't abandon the project because-"
"What good are you to the project if you're dead? To the people you've helped and will help?"
The drastic cut in was to the quick. "What good are you to any of us?"
I could see the heartbreak formulate and dissolve in a green wash; if he hadn't made it outside, if he would have been a few seconds later. All the what ifs poised and ready to condemn him for one more failure he'd uselessly hold himself accountable for.
A quickening stoke of my hand explained he wasn't overly concerned about what would happen to the project, but to him. What would be left for him if I'd been taken? The starkness unfolding in his eyes told me his life would resemble nothing but a wasteland more vapid and pallor than our surroundings.
My oasis would dissolve and morph into so many granules of errant sand.
I knew this because I would feel the same way should anything happen to him. Both of us were pressed to the tip of the invisible knife. Despite my situation, my instincts were still convinced he wasn't without his own undisclosed threats. I thought about how I'd go to any lengths to keep him out of harm's way. How I'd been keeping him tied to me in an effort to keep him safe. He was only attempting to do the same for me.
I wasn't accustomed to the notion of someone protecting me. I'd always been the one stretching out on limbs to collect the falling leaves, I never believed someone would threaten to loosen me from the tree.
I always thought I'd fall. I never dreamed I'd be caught.
I hoped he understood I was never going to completely abandon the project. It would always be a part of me as much as my tattoo. Going to California in an attempt to circumvent the violence against me didn't change my desire to help everyone I could. My sudden exposure to unscrupulous people and a violation of my freedom didn't steal my resolve to do good.
It infinitely strengthened it.
I was meandering through a temporary detour. The main road was in the distance, but the orange cones and lit signs were guiding me down side street which led into Edward's world. It would finally permit me to see where the underpinnings of his dreadful self image fastened themselves, and if there was a small corner of his life I could reside in.
It would also permit me to continue to help him. Or at least I would tell myself that while the selfish, Edward-centric portion of my brain made my decision.
My failure to answer quickly resulted in a further pleading from him.
"This is how you can help me. You can help me keep you safe."
He was using my passion to aide him against me, which meant, he knew me entirely too well for my own good.
"You minored in drama, didn't you?"
He shrugged and relaxed ever so slightly. "Communications."
"If this means anything to you," I pressed my fingers into the faded lines of ink on his arm.
"It means your shirt is in this bag."
A securing smile curved his mouth upwards as I dug through the small bag's minimal contents and quickly found the shirt. The joy I felt at being able to hold it redefined my gratitude at simply being permitted to hold it again. A short burst of attention from his lips left me with limited coherency wishing I was still in the hospital if only for the bed.
"I take it you're happy I'm going?"
He nodded gently and with a blink of his anarchist eyes, wrenched away my soul.
"I'd miss my shirt."
Then the car started, and the neon dust of the desert whipped around us for the last time.